Sox Reporter

How Lucroy fits in Sox spring training backup-catcher battle

Sox Reporter

"I just want another chance to win and a chance to put a ring on my finger and an opportunity to make a team that has a chance to win," Jonathan Lucroy said Thursday.

The veteran catcher, who the White Sox officially added Thursday on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, figures to have such an opportunity. But he'll have to win one of camp's few anticipated position battles, one pitting him against young backstops Zack Collins and Yermín Mercedes for the job of backing up Yasmani Grandal.

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In what must be music to the White Sox ears, Lucroy's presence will be about more than just adding another competitor to the mix.

"I've found over the course of my career, whenever I try to help other people, I try to help the team win no matter what it takes, even if it might cost me a job or a position, I find it’s more rewarding," Lucroy said. "I find, as a team, we are more successful.

"I’m going into the camp to obviously make the team, but I fully expect other catchers going into camp trying to make the team, too. They should do that. They better do that. I’m going to do my best to help guys out who ask me questions. I’ve always had the approach of leaving a place better whenever I leave it than whenever I arrive."

 

Lucroy doesn't figure to be the favorite for the spot heading into camp, which begins next week. That title likely belongs to Collins, who impressed at the plate the last time he got regular at-bats, with Triple-A Charlotte in 2019. Since, though, Collins hasn't received much opportunity, squeezed out of big league action in 2020, blocked by an All-Star catching tandem of Grandal and James McCann.

That the White Sox signed Grandal in the first place — to the richest free-agent deal in club history, at that — was an early sign of the team's recent preference for dependability as their contention window opens. Lucroy is obviously not the splashy add Grandal was an offseason ago, but his arrival could stem from the same desire. And perhaps he ends up the more reliable option should the defensive questions that have followed Collins since he was drafted fail to be answered this spring.

Then there's the new coaching regime on the South Side. New skipper Tony La Russa managed against Lucroy's Milwaukee Brewers during his days running the St. Louis Cardinals. And Jerry Narron, the newly announced addition to La Russa's coaching staff as a catching instructor, spent years coaching Lucroy with the Brewers.

"My agent called me and said there’s some interest there," Lucroy explained when asked how he ended up with the White Sox. "I talked to Jerry Narron. I’ve known Jerry for 10 years. I first met him in 2011 with the Brewers. He was the bench coach back then.

"He said, 'Hey there’s an opportunity here. Tony likes veteran guys.' And I know they are throwing my name around. I put a call in to Tony La Russa and said, 'Look I would love to play for you. I hated to play against you whenever you were managing with the Cardinals.' I said, 'But I would love to play for you if you see there’s a spot somewhere for me to have an opportunity to try to make the team.'"

Obviously, the idea that "Tony likes veteran guys" doesn't establish a blanket approach to roster construction this spring. But a mention of any type of interest in adding more veterans to a generally young group could mean a larger opportunity for Lucroy to win a job than initially believed.

And in addition to familiarity with La Russa and Narron, Lucroy has some familiarity with certain members of the White Sox pitching staff, too. He caught Liam Hendriks while with the Oakland Athletics, and he made a point of saying that he's faced Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn many times as a hitter.

We'll see how it all shakes out. Collins or Mercedes can make things easy by demonstrating the same offensive prowess they did in the minors and by alleviating some of the defensive concerns they've carried for years.

But there's a chance here for Lucroy to be the guy sitting behind Grandal on the catching depth chart when the White Sox open the season with a championship in mind.

 

"I'm going to go in there and play the best I can, and whatever they see the fit as, that's not up for me to decide," Lucroy said. "That's up to Tony and the people up top, all the front-office guys. They'll figure all that stuff out, I'm not worried about that.

"I'm just going to go out and do my best, try to play as good as I can to make the team and help these pitchers get better and perform to the peak of their ability. That's it."

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